Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide

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Latest Half-Dozen Posts (Full Text)

School Board Governance

School Board Members Must Speak Out
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, October 6, 2021, p. A6

Returning to my Iowa City home from Washington, confronting appeals of friends who were teachers, I agreed to run for school board, won, but promised only one term.

Later, I tried to recruit new school board members. It wasn’t easy.

Perhaps it was my candid sales pitch: “Well, you may not get any pay, but at least you’ll get a lot of grief.”

We spend less on K-12 than other countries, and our economy grows faster than education spending. But our federal, state and local governments budget $734 billion for it annually -- roughly the size of the defense budget.

Given the responsibilities of school board members it’s remarkable they have neither entrance requirements nor training.

But then neither do presidential appointees.

Maritime Administrator at 29, and lacking administrative experience, I asked Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges about training. There was none. I pleaded for at least some advice. He said all I needed to remember was to pee every chance I got.

Iowa City’s much beloved librarian, Lolly Eggers, served as my school board campaign treasurer, and provided, as befits a librarian, a book: John Carver, Boards That Make a Difference. She had found it useful with her board. So did we.

As Carver puts it, most advice for boards just teaches “how to do the wrong things better.”

Our superintendent was preparing the board’s agenda, complete with what motions should be made and when. As I said at the time, “We don’t have board meetings, we have superintendent meetings to which the board members are invited and have the best seats.” We changed that, redefining the roles of board members and superintendents. [Photo credit unknown, possibly Nicholas Johnson; from blog post, "The School Bored."]

The Cedar Rapids school board’s Board Governance Policies bear some similarity to what we did 23 years ago.

Where they differ in practice involves the role of elected officials and group decision making. We made clear individual board members did not speak for the board. But they did speak -- and listen.

As FCC commissioner I wrote some 400 dissenting opinions. As a school board member, I wrote a newspaper column every two weeks about K-12 education. Sometimes painful for my colleagues, my writing was nonetheless tolerated as part of the group decision-making process.

One reason democracies have multi-person legislative bodies, appellate courts, commissions – and school boards – is the assumption groups produce better decisions than authoritarian dictators. When group members are elected officials, they have an added obligation to express their views, communicate with and represent constituents, to be a voice for the voiceless, an ear for the unheard.

There is not a single challenge confronting Iowa’s school boards that has not been discovered, diagnosed, treated, and resolved by one of America’s 16,800 school boards, or the 19 countries that outscore the U.S. for quality of K-12 education.

School board members need to spend hours regularly studying the literature, reporting, speaking out and stimulating discussion. That, and many other tasks, are things that cannot properly be delegated to a superintendent and board chair.
Nicholas Johnson is a former Iowa City school board member. See Contact:


[School Board. My term ran from 1998 to 2001.]

[K-12 expenditures. Melanie Hanson, “U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics,”, Aug. 2, 2021,]

[Defense Budget. “Budget Basics: National Defense,” Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Aug. 2, 2021, (“The United States spent $725 billion on national defense during fiscal year (FY) 2020 according to the Office of Management and Budget . . ..”)]

[Use of word “pee” in The Gazette; precedent. Adam Sullivan. 2021 headline: “Banning fake pee? In this economy?” The Gazette, Feb. 19, 2021, ]

[Lolly Eggers. Iowa City Public Library Librarian, served from 1975-95. “Iowa City Public Library celebrates legacy of Lolly Eggers, Former Library Director,” Press Release, Iowa City Public Library,” July 2, 2021,]

[Carver. Doing the wrong things better. John Carver, “Remaking Governance,” American School Board Journal, March 2000, p. 26,]

[Cedar Rapids School Board governance. “Article 2 Board Governance and Operations,” Cedar Rapids Community School District Policies and Procedures,”]

[Group decision making. Tim Barnett, “Group Decision Making,” Encyclopedia of Management, Reference for Business, ]

[Number of school boards. Imed Bouchrika, “101 American School Statistics: 2020/2021 Data, Trends & Predictions,” Education,, June 10, 2020, (“The U.S. is currently home to 16,800 school districts.”)]

[19 counties better than US education. “20 Best Education System in the World,” edsys, May 22, 2019,; Patricia Fioriello, “Top K-12 Education System in the World,” Critical Issues in Education, (“The top five K-12 education systems worldwide are as follows:” – the U.S. did not make the list)]

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Solving Our Housing Disgrace

Housing has been in the news. Roughly 500,000 are homeless any given evening. "The number of poor, renter households experiencing a severe housing cost burden (i.e., those paying more than 50 percent of their income toward housing) totaled 6,902,060 in 2016." ["The State of Homelessness in America."] "The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history. . . . [An] estimated 30–40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction in the next several months." [Emily Benfer et al., "The COVID-19 Eviction Crisis," Aspen Institute, August 7, 2020.]

What are our values and goals regarding the provision of housing?

Our international housing value and goal is expressed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including . . . housing. . ..”

Presumably, we can agree to a standard at least as high as what the Iowa Legislature provides for animals.

Iowa Code Section 717B.3 provides the penalties for “animal neglect.” “A person commits animal neglect when the person . . . fails to provide the animal with . . . ventilated shelter reasonably sufficient to provide adequate protection from the elements and weather conditions . . .. The shelter must protect the animal from wind, rain, snow, or sun and have adequate bedding to provide reasonable protection against cold and dampness.”

Can we at least start there for humans as well?

Having agreed on the goal, the next step is to explore the alternative means of reaching it.

Private ownership. Most housing is created and provided by developers, contractors, and landlords who “own” the housing and price it at “what the market will bear” – that is, maximizing profits up to the amount beyond which the increase in price so diminishes demand that overall income is reduced. This system works well for the owners – and is satisfactory for the buyers and renters with incomes of $75,000 and up, unless a “housing shortage” drives prices beyond what they would be in a more competitive market. But it tends to shut out the homeless and those working for the minimum wage, or otherwise in the bottom 20% of the population as measured by both income and wealth.

Private-government blend. TIFs, Section 8 and other programs are designed to incentivize owners with cash payments from taxpayers. This model is used throughout our economy, including housing. Its limitations are (1) often a disproportionate focus on and benefit for the middle class rather than the low income and poor, (2) the amorphous standard of “affordable housing” can include making a $400,000 condo available for $200,000, and (3) little to no limitation or regulation regarding how much profit (from taxpayers’ money) goes to owners.

Government housing. While government housing programs must play a role, they have had their problems as well.

Churches, other non-profits, and organizations. It is a wonderful, community-building thing that individuals are willing to come together to fund, organize, and provide additional housing for those most in need. Building a Habitat for Humanity dwelling does create a house that becomes someone’s home, an improved community spirit, and for those who build it a worthwhile sense of having done some good in this world for others. But it cannot, alone, make much of a dent in the 500,000 homeless sleeping on the streets, and the millions more low-income folks sleeping in their cars.

Keeping on keeping on. Of course, we need to continue to do what we can with what we have while endeavoring to bring more attention, commitment, and resources to housing for all.

But the bottom-line reality and shame that hangs over our nation’s housing failure will stay with us until over a majority of Americans, and their elected officials, set a top priority goal of creating and providing decent shelter to every American – and then pursue that goal with the determination and perseverance we applied to winning World War II, or putting a man on the moon.

Failing to provide shelter to animals is a violation of law called “animal neglect.” Can we not agree that failing to provide shelter for humans, “human neglect,” is as worthy of legal protection?

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Monday, September 20, 2021

America's Democracy September 2021

From its birth, America's democracy has been under attack -- from a number of directions, by different (usually relatively small) groups of people, with varying results, up to and including our Civil War and the January 6, 2021, insurection.

So it's useful to take its pulse from time to time to see how it is doing.

I have written about this in the book Columns of Democracy, numerous newspaper columns and blog posts. But I've just watched the report by Stephen Schmidt and now believe it to be one of the best analyses I've heard or read -- no screaming or wild claims, "just the facts, ma'am," as Dragnet's Joe Friday used to say. []

Schmidt played major roles in the Republican party for years. Schmidt was communications director of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, during President George W. Bush's administration he was a deputy assistant to the president and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2004, he was a member of the senior strategic planning group, led by White House adviser Karl Rove, that ran President George W. Bush's re-election campaign and oversaw the reelection "war room". He was the White House strategist responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts. He was campaign manager for the re-election campaign for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and headed up the day-to-day operations of the McCain presidential campaign. []

I don't lay this out to make the case that he's a dues-paying member of the Trump Cult. He's not. He was in on the creation of The Lincoln Project -- an organization he has now left. [] He has also left the Republican Party.

Here's the video. Watch it and judge for yourself:

Amanpour and Company, PBS, "Lincoln Project’s Steve Schmidt “There’s a Battle for Control of MAGA Empire," posted Sept. 15, 2021,

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Defending Wilderness Parks

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 12, 2021, p. D2

Iowa City’s Hickory Hill Park wilderness was recently protected from developers by the City Council. Not all wilderness has been so lucky.

Why wilderness? Everyone has stories. Here’s mine.

Over 100 years ago President Teddy Roosevelt warned, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone ….” He created the U.S. Forest Service and 150 national forests plus five national parks – 230 million acres in all.
[Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson; downhill trail from "The Rock," Hickory Hill Park, Iowa City, Iowa]

Did Iowa heed that warning? Apparently not.

Mark Edwards, after 30-years with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, retains his commitment. Eight years ago, in “A world Without Wildlife,” he wrote:

“We traded 93 percent of Iowa’s habitat for [agriculture], 6 percent for cities and roads. Two-thirds of [Iowa’s 36 million acres are] corn and beans. We killed the native prairies [leaving only] 30,000 acres [less than 0.1%]. All [Iowa’s] county, state and federal public land [combined] . . . amounts to a square less than 39 miles on a side. We have produced the most polluted surface water in America and continue to reduce habitat for most species."

One of my earliest memories of being four years old is lying on my back in the front yard on a windy summer day, looking up at the elms’ dancing canopy, speculating whether it was the moving limbs that made the wind, or the wind that moved the trees.

A few years later, when my parents refused to dictate “my” religion, and I came upon reference to Druids, who had sacred trees, I went looking for Iowa City’s Druid church. Finding none, that quest was abandoned.

As a member of one of the last law school classes permitted to take the bar exam before graduating, and with an awaiting federal clerkship in late August, I spent the summer visiting Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy: all the national parks west of the Mississippi.

Once in Washington, a few steps across a seldom-travelled street bordering my apartment, grew Glover-Archbold Park. Its 183 acres of wilderness and meandering stream ran north from Canal Road for 2-1/2 miles. It was my Walden Pond in the center of a city over three times the population of Des Moines. A place for a daily run, to meditate, to experience a forest through 365 days of sun, wind, rain and snow.

Nor is this the only wilderness area inside Washington. Rock Creek Park is 1700 acres. Glover-Archbold doesn’t even make the list of “12 Top Washington, D.C., Parks.”

Similarly, New York’s Central Park, envisioned in the 1840s and opened in 1858, is only the fifth largest in that city.

Developers seeking profit from a violation of Hickory Hill Park is bad enough. But can you imagine the billions of dollars 1700 acres in Washington or 843 acres in Manhattan would be worth to developers? And yet, to borrow from the Broadway show tune, “they’re still here” – because they had defenders.

We owe our wilderness no less.
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, enjoys Linn and Johnson Counties’ wilderness areas. Contact:


Hickory Hill Park and Iowa City City Council. Rylee Wilson, “Iowa City Council changes direction, votes no on Hickory Hill development; After voting to approve a controversial rezoning two times, the motion failed on its final consideration,” The Gazette, July 27, 2021,

Iowa City. Hickory Hill Park is 190 acres; Iowa City 26.14 sq mi (Iowa 56,272 sq mi) “Iowa City, Iowa,”,,_Iowa#Metropolitan_area

President Theodore Roosevelt. “Theodore Roosevelt,” National Park Service, (includes quote); and see (“Conservation” quote)

Iowa wilderness. Mark Edwards, "A World Without Wildlife," Ames Tribune, Nov. 29, 2013, ("We are the most biologically altered state in North America. We traded 93 percent of Iowa’s habitat for agricultural purposes, along with 6 percent for cities and roads. Two-thirds of our roughly 36 million acres are covered in just two annual plants, corn and beans. We killed the native prairies and have only 30,000 acres left. It would be hard to do a better job.//All county, state and federal public land in Iowa placed all together amounts to a square less than 39 miles on a side, and all these areas are losing native species.//We have produced the most polluted surface water in America and continue to reduce habitat for most species.")

Druids. “Celtic Sacred Trees,” Wikipedia, (“Many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred.” “Pliny the Elder describes a festival on the sixth day of the moon where the druids climbed an oak tree, cut a bough of mistletoe, and sacrificed two white bulls as part of a fertility rite.” With reproduction of the 1845 painting “The Druid Grove.”)

Clerkships. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John R. Brown, 1958-59; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, 1959-60.

Washington, D.C. Parks.
Washington. “Glover-Archbold Park,” (183 acres)

“Glover-Archbold Park,” Birders’ Guide to Maryland,” (stretching over 2.5 miles from Canal Road in Georgetown north to Van Ness Street)

“Washington, D.C.,”,,_D.C. (“The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the district's population was 705,749 as of July 2019, an increase of more than 100,000 people compared to the 2010 United States Census.”)

Des Moines population, “Des Moines, Iowa,”,_Iowa (“The city's population was 214,133 as of the 2020 census.”)

Rock Creek Park, 1700 acres “12 Top Washington DC Parks,” Washington DC Sightseeing Tours,

DC [as distinguished from "Washington"] has 900 acres of parks - District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation,

Washington, DC 43, 766 acres. “DC’s 43,766 acres,”
Central Park, NYC. “Central Park,” (843 acres; envisioned 1840s, opened to public 1858)

“They’re still here.” Stephen Sondheim, “I’m Still Here,” “Follies” (1971) (“Good times and bum times/I’ve seen them all and, my dear/I’m still here/Plush velvet sometimes/Sometimes just pretzels and beer/But I’m here/ ….”)

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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Departure Disaster - Generals Had It Right

Four days ago (April 18) The Gazette published a column of mine, "Think About the Ending Before the Beginning," The Gazette, August 18, 2021, p. A6, reproduced in this blog as, "Starting and Ending Wars; Questions We Should Have Asked Before Invading Afghanistan," August 18, 2021,

In it I said, "Before, rather than after, going to war the best and brightest of our military have 'thought a bit of the end of it.' They have a list of questions . . .. Among them are, 'What will be our exit strategy?' and 'After we leave will the people and their country be better off or worse off?'”

Knowing that about the military I could not believe that the departure President Biden pursued was something they had either urged upon him or even agreed to. But at that time I didn't have a source to cite to support my assumption.

I had even suggested in a prior (unpublished) version of that column (and included in the "Sources," under "Related") a rebuttal to the argument for leaving Afghanistan that "We shouldn't be keeping even 5000 or 10,000 troops in a foreign country." I wrote, "If true, then should we also bring the troops home from the other 150 (give or take) countries where we have even more troops -- Japan 54K, South Korea 26K, Germany 35K, Italy 12K, UK 9K?"

Today I came upon a couple of sources supporting (a) my assumption that the miliary did not support Biden's departure plans, and (b) that if we can justify 54,000 American troops still in Japan over 75 years after World War II what is so outrageous about keeping 5,000 or more troops in Afghanistan 20 years after our invasion?

Here are those sources:

The New York Times put six of its best reporters on its page one lead story today (Aug. 22) about the evolution of President Biden's approach to our troops departure from Afghanistan. After making reference to an April 2021 meeting in its opening sentence, the next sentence reads:
"It was two weeks after President Biden had announced the exit over the objection of his generals, but now they were carrying out his orders."

In other words, the generals did oppose Biden's departure plan -- while supporting the Constitution's requirement that they obey the commands of their civilian commander in chief. Michael D. Shear, et al, "Embassy in Kabul Warns Amricanws to Avoid Airport; Miscue After Miscue, Exit Plan Unravels," [Online headline: "Miscue After Miscue, U.S. Exit Plan Unravels; President Biden promised an orderly withdrawal. That pledge, compounded by missed signals and miscalculations, proved impossible.] New York Times, August 22, 2021, p. A1,

That story makes reference to an earlier New York Times report: Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, "Debating Exit From Afghanistan, Biden Rejected Generals’ Views; Over two decades of war, the Pentagon had fended off the political instincts of elected leaders frustrated with the grind of Afghanistan. But President Biden refused to be persuaded." New York Times, April 18, 2021, p. A1, ("The report by the Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan panel examining the peace deal reached in February 2020 under the Trump administration, found that withdrawing troops based on a strict timeline, rather than how well the Taliban adhered to the agreement to reduce violence and improve security, risked the stability of the country and a potential civil war once international forces left.")

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Starting and Ending Wars

Questions We Should Have Asked Before Invading Afghanistan;
There weren’t any good ways to leave Afghanistan, just the least-worst way. And we didn’t pick that one.

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 18, 2021, p. A6

[This is how it first appeared Aug. 17 online; hard copy headline: "Think About the Ending Before the Beginning"]

“If we’d thought a bit of the end of it,” Cole Porter laments in his lyrics to “Just One of Those Things.”

It’s a caution wisely applied in both love and war, as Rita Rudner illustrates in her standup: “Whenever I date a guy, I think, 'Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?'”

Now think Afghanistan.
How will we know if we’re ever “successful”? What are our metrics?

Before, rather than after, going to war the best and brightest of our military have “thought a bit of the end of it.” They have a list of questions, set forth below. Among them are, “What will be our exit strategy?” and “After we leave will the people and their country be better off or worse off?” [Photo source:, public domain]

Among the other questions are: What’s the problem, or challenge? What’s our goal? Is it sufficiently important, clearly defined and understood? Why will military force contribute to, rather than impede, its accomplishment? What more effective non-military alternatives are there?

What are the benefits and costs, gains and losses, risks and rewards? What will it require in troops, materiel, lives and treasure? How long will it take? Are the American people and their Congress supportive? For how long?

Might we be perceived as just the latest invaders? Can we protect innocent civilians? Is the area governed as a country, or as regions ruled by war lords? Are we picking sides in a civil war? Are we sufficiently informed about the territory and people where we’ll be fighting? Do we know their language, culture, history, tribal, political, and social structure? Will we be the only ones identified by uniforms, unable to distinguish friend from foe? [Photo source:]

How will we know if we’re ever “successful”? What are our metrics?

As U.S. maritime administrator I had some responsibility for sealift to Vietnam and our MARAD representatives there. Before a trip to Saigon I was asked to report my assessment when I returned.

What was my conclusion, after matching the questions above to my observations in Vietnam? “You can’t play basketball on a football field.”

Or, as the computer in the 1983 movie “War Games” concludes, after comparing its countdown to “Global Thermonuclear War” with an unwinnable game of tic-tac-toe, there are times when “The only winning move is not to play.”

[See 1:42-1:46 (1:30-1:35 on original YouTube trailer) for computer's conclusion. The rest of what's provided here gives the context for that conclusion. This is a clip from a trailer for the film, available to the public on YouTube. If anyone connected to the film War Games objects to this use, promoting the film and thus encouraging people to watch the entire movie, give me a brief email to that effect and this will be taken down.]

But we no longer have the luxury of deciding whether to play the game. That was decided by others 20 years ago. As the pottery display sign warns, “break it, you own it.” We own Afghanistan.

Paul Simon sang, “There must be 50 ways to leave your lover.” There weren’t any good ways to leave Afghanistan, just the least-worst way. And we didn’t pick that one.

Now America agonizes, like the hospitalized antivaxxer whose refusal to be vaccinated has him infected with COVID, breathing through a ventilator. He’s changed his mind. He begs to be vaccinated, only to be told, “We’re sorry, but it’s too late now.”

If only “we’d thought a bit of the end of it” in 2001 – and 2021.
Nicholas Johnson, the author of Columns of Democracy, was U.S. maritime administrator during the Vietnam War.

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Lyrics to “Just One of Those Things.” Cole Porter. “It was just one of those things/Just one of those crazy flings . . . If we’d thought a bit/Of the end of it/When we started painting the town . . . It was great fun/But it was just one of those things.”

Rita Rudner quote. “Rita Rudner Quote,” citing source as: “As quoted in: Mademoiselle: The Magazine for the Smart Young Woman, Volume 92 (Condé Nast Publications, 1986), p. 174.”; also

War Games.

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Genius,

Related (to prior versions of this column; still relevant but not necessary “sources” for this version. (a) When 911 was paid for and carried out by Saudis, why did we attack Afghanistan? (b) Yes, there were terrorists in Afghanistan. But there are well over 100 countries that could, and do, provide safe havens for terrorists. Why make Afghanistan our single major focus? (c) We shouldn't be keeping even 5000 or 10,000 troops in a foreign country. If true, then should we also bring the troops home from the other 150 (give or take) countries where we have even more troops -- Japan 54K, South Korea 26K, Germany 35K, Italy 12K, UK 9K?)

Saudis not Afghanis. Annika Kim Constantino, “U.S. reviews 9/11 documents for possible release after families tell Biden to skip memorial events,”CNBC, Aug. 9, 2021,

Terrorists in 134 countries. Global Terrorism Index, (last edited Aug. 10, 2021)

100,000 troops in Afghanistan in August 2010. “A timeline of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan since 2001,” AP/Military Times, July 6, 2016,

Troop deployments.

“United States Military Deployments,” Wikipedia, (“The military of the United States is deployed in most countries around the world, with between 150,000 to 200,000 of its active-duty personnel stationed outside the United States and its territories.”)

“US Deployment Facts, How Many US Troops are Overseas?” VetFriends, (With more than 5000: Japan, Germany, South Korea, Kuwait, Italy, UK)

“Explained: The US military’s global footprint,” TRTWorld, March 15, 2021, (“Washington keeps troops numbered around 150,000 to 200,000 abroad across more than 150 countries, according to different sources.” citing DOD data June 30, 2021; Japan 54K, South Korea 26K, Germany 35K, Italy 12K, UK 9K)

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Friday, August 06, 2021

Protecting Animals While Evicting Humans

Protecting Animals But Not Humans

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 6, 2021, p. A5

Why does the law permit evicting the mammalian species Homo sapiens from shelter, but not mammalians like dogs and cats?

Of course, I support laws protecting animals’ rights. I love and attempt communication with all creatures. (Fish and ants are the most obstinate.) Increasing penalties and enforcement for animal mistreatment are encouraging.

But an Aspen Institute analysis reveals 30 to 40 million American Homo sapiens are at risk of eviction.

This is made worse by COVID. We knew since January 2020 COVID elimination is possible (test, trace, quarantine, isolate). Some elected officials preferred the path that produced 600,000 deaths.

Vaccine creation was appropriately celebrated. But vaccine in bottles is much less effective than vaccine in arms.

Rather than vaccination, some of our “leaders” prefer our “freedom” to choose risk of death to ourselves and others. So, more die.

Meanwhile, 7000 miles away in Wuhan, China, all 11 million residents are being tested. Since May 2020 Wuhan eliminated positive cases. Recently, when three symptomatic and five asymptomatic cases popped up, they resumed test, trace, isolate and quarantine.

Evictions in China? Yes, housing is a challenge for migrants. But during the 2020 lockdown Wuhan built shelters for about 5000 persons.

Like Americans, the Chinese have even more concern for animals. Bloomberg reports they are building 13-story condominiums for hogs to protect them from disease – with on-premises vets and individually prepared and served meals.

It’s unlikely that capitalist America will ever provide the housing for humans that China provides for hogs.

But can’t our Democrats and Republicans, the religious and agnostics alike, at least agree to provide every member of our species with shelter? It’s what we insist on for our fellow mammalians. It’s what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says is a basic human right.

So how do we do that?

Start by skipping the 38 percent of Americans who own their homes free and clear. Concentrate on the 30 to 40 million who are housing insecure – starting with the homeless. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

Iowa City’s Shelter House is building a second “housing first” facility for Homo sapiens. Housing first is a movement demonstrating why it’s more effective and cheaper to assist the homeless and unemployed with housing before addressing their other challenges. Duplicate it across America.

It’s how Finland is eliminating homelessness.

Let’s start saving life on Earth while searching for life on Mars. We spend more on military than the next 11 nations combined. It used to be 10. Cut it to five.

Explain to those devoid of compassion how much we’ll save by housing the homeless. Cost? We can’t afford not to.

Then address the housing insecure. Forbes has headlined, “Housing Shortage Worse Than Ever.”

We need the government to start creating homes, not Section 8 vouchers. Learn from the early public housing “projects” problems. Build homes tenants and communities welcome. Charge no more than 30 percent of tenants’ income.

Let’s treat our own species at least as well as we rightfully require for other animals, starting now.
Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City is former co-director of the Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy. He is the author of "Columns of Democracy." Comments:

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Tougher animal protection laws. Kat Russell, “Tougher law ‘step in the right direction’ for animal abuse cases,” The Gazette, Aug. 2, 2021, p. A1, (‘the animal abuse and neglect cases reported to Cedar Rapids police so far this year — a year that to date has seen more arrests for the offenses than in the entire four previous years.” “recent changes to the state code strengthened penalties for some of the state’s animal cruelty laws … Under House File 737, if an animal was seriously injured or killed as a result of abuse or neglect, the crime would be an aggravated misdemeanor and punishable by up to two years in prison.”) And see, Rod Boshart, “Iowa Senate adopts tougher animal cruelty law,” The Gazette, March 4, 2020,

Evicting Americans. Emily Benfer, et al, “The COVID-19 Eviction Crisis: an Estimated 30-40 Million People in America Are at Risk,” Aspen Institute, August 7, 2021 (“The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history. … in the absence of robust and swift intervention, an estimated 30–40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction ….”[101 M Americans in renter households] [“eviction risk disproportionately impacts black and Latinx renters, and renters with children”] [People at risk of eviction by state: Iowa 118,000-239,000] “Foreclosure can lead to a lack of maintenance, urban blight, reduced property values for neighboring properties, and erosion of neighborhood safety and stability. Without rental income to pay property tax, communities lose resources for public services, city and state governments, schools, and infrastructure ….” See text under heading “Proposed policy interventions avoid suffering, save lives, and prevent severe harm”

Wuhan testing 11 M. Vivian Wang, “Wuhan, where the virus emerged, will test all residents after its first outbreak in over a year,” New York Times, Aug. 3, 2021, (Wuhan in Hubei Province) “Wuhan … is planning to test all of its 11 million residents for the coronavirus …. The city … had not recorded any local cases since May of last year, after a harsh two-and-a-half month lockdown helped eradicate the virus there. But city officials said they had detected three symptomatic local cases in the previous 24 hours, as well as five asymptomatic ones.”

Homelessness in China. “Homelessness in China,” Wikipedia, (during the 2020 lockdown “The Wuhan Civil Affairs Bureau set up 69 shelters in the city to house 4,843 people.” “In 2017, the government responded to a deadly fire in a crowded building in Beijing by cracking down on dense illegal shared accommodations and evicting the residents, leaving many migrant laborers homeless.”)

Hog Hotels. “China’s Putting Pigs in 13-Story ‘Hog Hotels’ to Keep Germs Out,” Bloomberg News, August 1, 2021, (“more than 10,000 pigs are kept in a condominium-style complex, complete with restricted access, security cameras, in-house veterinary services and carefully prepared meals.” Another is “equipped with robots that monitor animals for fever, air filtration, and automatic feeding and disinfection systems.”)

Owned homes. Jonathan Jones, “Cities Whose Residents Have Paid Off Their Homes [2020 Edition],” Construction Coverage, Nov. 4, 2020, (“According to Census Bureau data, over 38 percent of owner-occupied housing units are owned free and clear. For homeowners under age 65, the share of paid-off homes is 26.4 percent.”)

Housing First. “Housing First,” National Alliance to End Homelessness,” April 20, 2016, (“belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.”)

Caleb McCullough, “Shelter House breaks ground on second ‘Housing First’ project,” The Gazette, June 18, 2021,

Finland eliminating homelessness. Tahiat Mahboob, “Housing is a human right: How Finland is eradicating homelessness,” CBC Radio, Jan 24, 2020,

US military spending. “THE UNITED STATES SPENDS MORE ON DEFENSE THAN THE NEXT 11 COUNTRIES COMBINED, Peter G. Peterson Foundation, July 19, 2021,

Housing shortage. Graison Dangor, “The Housing Shortage Is Worse Than Ever—And Will Take A Decade Of Record Construction To Fix, New Reports Say,” Forbes, June 16, 2021,

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